POSTCARDS TO A PRISONER

CLUTCHING a bunch of primroses freshly picked from a day out in the country, it could be a toddler on any family outing.

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A postcard from Deborah's great-grandfather William, back row, fourth left, in the POW camp and, right, the picture and postcards which were sent to William
A postcard from Deborah's great-grandfather William, back row, fourth left, in the POW camp and, right, the picture and postcards which were sent to William

Accompanied by her mum and sister, Anne Marsh has a wary stare for the camera.

It was one of many pictures and cards which were sent to her father during years of separation in World War I.

That young girl was my Nana who didn't see her father, my great grandpa Private William Marsh, for nearly four years.

This picture was taken during a trip to the country hosted by my great grand-father's war mother Mrs William Cadbury.

It's one of many pictures and cards which managed to make their way behind enemy lines after Private Marsh was captured, taken prisoner and interned in a German POW camp.

Just one and a half years old, Anne was too young to know why her father had gone away.

But as a former soldier with eight years experience in the army, he was among the first wave to head for France after war broke out in 1914.

Joining his former regiment the Royal Scots Fusiliers, Private Marsh was among the first soldiers to leave for the war and was one of the "Old Contemptibles," a term used by the German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm who famously dismissed the British Expeditionary Force as General French's "contemptible little army."

Despite his Birmingham roots, my great grandfather joined a Scottish regiment. He had even signed up just after his 18th birthday - without telling his mother.

He saw service in India in early 1900s and left his army career behind in 1910 with a record of exemplary service.

No one knew what was to come, and he found himself back in uniform in 1914 posted to France.

His captain during those first weeks was one James Boyle, the son of the then Earl of Glasgow, who was sadly killed at La Basse in October 1914.

Several months after joining the campaign, Private Marsh was injured by shrapnel.

He was captured and imprisoned at Doberitz POW camp in Germany in 1915.

Postcards from home and parcels from his war mother Mrs Cadbury, of the Birmingham-based chocolate makers, contained cigarettes, soap and a few comforts, and kept c ommunication links alive.

Growing up and enjoying Saturday afternoon chats with Nana, we always looked through the book of pictures from WW I kept in what we called the memories drawer.

However, it wasn't until weeks after my Nana's death last year, at the age of 100, that something made me pull out the pictures from the album.

I turned them over to read messages of thoughts of home to the hope of being reunited again.

While my Nana did talk about those early years, perhaps I wasn't meant to discover the personal notes written during a time which many of us can never begin to comprehend and grasp what people went through.

They reflect a longing to be home and messages from little girls of how much they miss their father, the writing just barely legible.

I am grateful now that I have discovered what are historical and heartfelt accounts of years of separation.

While desperate for news back home in Birmingham, my Nana, who later spent the later years of her life in West Kilbride, Ayrshire, was growing up fast.

Anne and sister Katie's mum Catherine kept family life going but the years of separation were difficult to bear. Messages managed to get through and if it hadn't been for those crucial lines of communication, it would have been difficult to imagine being reunited one again.

I remember my Nana telling me the story of how my great grandfather made it home. He was freed on Armistice Day 1918 - in fact, his birthday.

The gates of the camp were thrown open and they were told to go.

He made his way on foot through Germany and Belgium to reach a ferry port to get home.

Private Marsh walked in plimsoles and was given clothing when the King of Belgium gifted jumpers to soldiers.

I'll never forget how Nana described the day when her dad came home.

Nana often recalled how they heard unfamiliar heavy footsteps.

They were the footsteps of a weary man making a long journey home.

My great Nana Catherine opened the door and standing there was her husband. There had been no news of him coming home, he just turned up.

Four years apart my Nana and sister Katie found this strange man in their home an odd experience, at first even slightly scared of this new but somehow familiar figure back in their lives.

As the centenary of the outbreak of war nears, I approach it with a heavy heart as it will also be a year since I lost my Nana.

While I will always be grateful that the war stories have passed to me, I'm just thankful my Nana won't have to go through it all again during the many commemorations.

With such horrors of war, it's something no one should have to live through ever again.

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